Neil deGrasse Tyson, possibly the most famous scientist in America today, recently sat down with Salon for an interview, covering topics ranging from his concerns over governmental policy making, climate change denial, and education.
When asked about what role scientists should play in helping to shape policy, Tyson referred back to the Cold War, saying “there was a long and distinguished train of scientists who were quite visible and quite outspoken about their views on war, weaponry, and this sort of thing.
“What concerns me,” said Tyson, “is that I see people making decisions, particularly decisions that might affect policy or governance, that are partly informed, or misinformed, or under-informed. And so I think there’s value as an educator, and especially as a scientist, to get as much of that information out there for people to respond to.”
Finding it odd that people come to him for comments on climate change, Tyson, an astrophysicist, said,
“I think more climate scientists should step up to the plate and serve that same corresponding role that the physicists played during the Cold War, and if they want, to empower lawmakers and the citizenry to make informed decisions about the future of the country. So I think it should happen more than it has happened. But, like I said, many of these issues are not directly at the center of my professional expertise and we have others for whom it is.”
On what it would take for society to reverse course regarding climate change and those who say it’s “too late to make meaningful change:
“I think maybe we have to sink lower before the pistons of Congress and the electorate align to take meaningful action, to protect the planet going forward. And this idea about being too late, well that’s defeatist of course. That’s saying, “Well, okay, we don’t know what to do so therefore let’s do nothing.”
Tyson also is concerned with the debates taking place over things that are widely accepted as scientific fact, rather than debating what policy should come about as a result of that science.
“With any issue that comes up, when we have an emergent scientific truth, we can’t just sit back and watch people debate a scientific truth — they should be debating the politics that would follow from the emergent scientific truth. That’s really what the debates should be about, but they haven’t been. And I’m disturbed by that, because I don’t know what kind of democracy that is, if you’re gonna run around cherry-picking the results of science, of emergent scientific consensus because it conflicts with your philosophy and you want to be responsible for the governance of the nation, which involves thoughtful planning for the future of our health and our wealth, the state of the economy, all of the above.”
Shifting the discussion to education, Tyson said he believe that teaching is difficult, but teachers should not shift the blame to their students, but rather to the flawed system in which they work.
“…that’s hard, particularly in big cities, especially in New York, where you might have 34 kids in a class. It may even be impossible to find the right key for every student. But the reason they’re not learning is not because they don’t want to learn; it’s because the system has not allowed you the time to find the key to every one of the students. And so the answer should not be “they don’t learn because they don’t want to learn,” it should be “they want to learn but the system does not allow me the time to figure out what their formula is.”
Tyson concluded with solution on how to fix the problems currently faced today.
“I promise … this: If all people were curious, that would just solve everything, I think. Almost everything. It’ll solve so much of what today we identify as problems that need separate solutions.”
Read the full interview with Salon here.